★★★½ Life can be weird sometimes when you’re a teenager, but not as weird as seventeen-year-old Joel Suzuki. He’s a pretty average guy, he’s in a band, just got a record deal, he has some good friends, and he has (mostly) fond memories of living in a weird place called “Spectraland” too – a world apart from the Earth he’s living on now. They might have stayed memories, too, if an old friend hadn’t have come to one of his gigs to deliver grave news about the fate of his old home: not only is his clan in trouble, but the very sky is ablaze as the moons have caught fire. His relatively average life on Earth put to one side, it’s time for Joel to return home and find out the Mystery of the Moonfire by Brian Tashima, in the second book of the Spectraland Saga.
At first glance, Moonfire is a strange little book. The uncanny valley cover that mixes decent design concepts with unbalanced Photoshopped stock assets really sets a questionable expectation for the contents, which is given a few additional spins of confusion as the piece opens cold onto a scene of zombie werewolves rooting for a gig to go well. As someone joining the series here rather than the first book of the series, I had a laundry list of questions from the get-go. I’d like to say that they all get answered as the book goes on, but I don’t think I can. While many of the necessary details for the story can be picked up, Moonfire presents a unfettered wall of strangeness to anyone brave enough to go for it. And I quite liked it.
The writing is engaging and frequently really funny in a very low-key way that flows really well. The book is brilliantly tongue-in-cheek at times, or, at least, I think it is. It’s a little hard to discern whether some of the moments I found myself chuckling at were actually meant to be laughed at as the book walks the fine line of satire in a really uncanny way. Some of the more jokey portions of the book fail to hit very high notes of humor that I think the author was intending, and some of the parts that, on second thoughts, may have been intended as more serious are delivered in very silly ways that I found amusing. The line is blurred between the deliberate and accidental with the pulp supernatural tone.
It’s an odd book, one I’d struggle to confidently suggest going into blindly. Perhaps it would be best to venture into it from the first book of the saga for the easiest entry, as there are brilliant ideas at play here. The magical island world of Spectraland is a lovely blend of contemporary horror tropes and distinct Hawaiian influence that I can easily say stands out beautifully from anything I’ve ever read. It’s a shame that the book is a bit too difficult to approach as it is, with occasionally unclear editing at times to boot. I’d like to see the final product tweaked a lot to bring it out, but in the end it’s hard to deny that it is a wonderful story, weird as hell, and embracing it openly, and really the kind of book it takes guts to put out there.